Early signs of spring may once have been a cuckoo’s song or the first pink spears of Yorkshire rhubarb in the market, but these days another sure sign is MasterChef jostling to add a little deconstructed culinary jeopardy to our evenings.
That MasterChef kitchen has become instantly identifiable: an endurance test of hard surfaces, exposed brick, metal shelving, and portholed swing doors which would look at home on a nuclear sub.
This, combined with two decades of interiors magazines showcasing kitchens sleek with pared-back cabinetry, white walls and plate glass, makes me ask when did our kitchens become places to look at, rather than to live in?
When I built a kitchen on the back of my house six years ago, it was the culmination of years of planning, dreaming and tear sheets. In my job as a food writer, I’ve cooked in some gorgeous domestic kitchens. When it came to building my own, I created a fantasy of slate floors, bifold glass doors, stainless steel appliances, walnut and marble.
Basically, the full house of east London kitchen bingo which would allow me to look my cool neighbours in the face. But then reality intruded. I’m not that person. I don’t live that life.
Gradually, pots of herbs and big canisters of flour crept on to the smart walnut counters. Jars lugged back from French markets filled with wooden spoons and spatulas jostled for space by the stove. An old carpet softened the cold tile. Postcards, receipts and recipes covered the doors of the stainless steel fridge.
I want a kitchen that feels like home as I spend half my life in it. I need it to work really hard but not feel austere, to be the place where practicality meets passion. And that means it’s about as far away from the stark, utilitarian MasterChef/cool interiors mag aesthetic as you can get.
If you’re wary of sticking a kid’s drawing on the wall in case you “ruin the look”, you’re doing it wrong. And I sense around me, others are feeling the same. This season’s small appliances and kitchen accessories are all in gentle, pastel pistachios, sugared almond pinks and retro blues. Warm copper is taking the place of gleaming steel.
Kitchens are becoming less self-consciously cool, as cooks ditch the chill for a softer, more personal look. We’re remembering that the best kitchens aren’t somewhere to show off, but somewhere to live, entertain, and enjoy your family and friends.
Whatever the size of your kitchen, whether it’s a galley or a barn, the chances are it’s not working as hard as it could to make your life – and your dinner – as easy and enjoyable as possible. Even if your kitchen is quite large, think about how you use it.
In fact, it’s especially important if you have a large space and more choices. You don’t want to walk 100 yards to make a cup of tea. Store things as closely as possible to where you use them – and always add as much storage as you can. You’ll need it.
In my kitchen, I squeezed extra little cupboards into the steps that go up to the sitting room. I have lots of open shelving, for ease of access. Concealed shelving under the island and in the cupboards all pulls out, so nothing languishes, forgotten and unloved, at the back.
Hunt down the best flooring, counters and handles you can afford as they get the most wear. But if your heart is set on something, go for it. I wanted a honed marble top for my island, an idea greeted with horror by many kitchen design pros – it would chip, stain, be the most expensive folly.
Six years on, I still love it as much as ever and the odd stain or mark to me is just a sign of the life lived around it. And it’s great for rolling out pastry and tempering chocolate. It’s often the most mundane things which make the biggest difference to your daily life.
Rolling out pastry and biscuit dough on marble keeps it cool. If a whole counter is out of the question, smaller marble offcuts are quite cheap and worth it if you like baking.
Makes about 40.
280g plain flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp salt
200g caster sugar, plus more for dredging
2 tbsp orange juice
Finely grated zest of a small orange
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cardamom and salt.
- In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg, orange juice and zest.
- Fold in the flour, form into a ball, wrap in cling film and chill for an hour.
- Roll out on a floured surface until 4mm thick.
- Cut into shapes and put on to baking sheets lined with parchment.
- Sprinkle on some caster sugar and bake at 190C/170C fan/375F/gas 5 for 5-10min.
- Cool on the trays for 5min before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
Think how many hours you spend at the kitchen sink. When I chose mine, I took my largest roasting tin to the shop and picked a sink which would allow it to sit flat on the bottom, all the better for soaking off the inevitable burnt-on disasters. I also chose a dishwasher divided into two drawers, so I could run a quick, small wash, or divide the loads into delicate glassware and filthy pans.
Lighting is incredibly important. Of course you want enough light to work safely, but think about atmosphere, too. I have all of my overhead lights on dimmers to create a softer, less, well, MasterChef mood while we’re eating.
And however small they might be, it’s good to have some softer touches, whether it’s something as simple as a few pretty candlesticks or as extravagant as a cosy armchair. You spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so it should embrace you and make you happy to be there.
This is a case of do what I say and not what I do. I own a food processor, two blenders and a wand blender and the only one I ever really use is the food processor.
None of us need as many things as we think we need. Start with what you need to cook the food you like and work from there.
- Good knives. Most people manage perfectly well with two: a 22cm chef’s knife and an 8cm paring knife.
- A Microplane grater is wonderful for getting fine zest off citrus fruit, and grating garlic or ginger into a paste.
- A really good, sharp vegetable peeler. Replace it when it gets blunt.
- Some digital scales with a tare system, so you can weigh several things in the same bowl at the same time, both liquids and solids. They’re cheap and sanity saving.
- A mini food processor makes whizzing up a small amount of breadcrumbs, a quick batch of dressing or mayonnaise, or speedy spice pastes a cinch.
- If you love to bake, a stand mixer – with a dough hook attachment if you like to make bread – is a good investment. Be sure to check out the power of the motor.
- A food processor will probably earn its counter space if you like making soups, pastry, silky smooth sauces and purées. Whatever you have at your disposal, the most important thing is not to get too hung up on having the coolest or the most expensive. When you’re watching MasterChef next week, remember it’s not real life. Regardless of the state of your surfaces, equipment and appliances, when you’re pottering about in your own kitchen, cooking shouldn’t get more relaxe.
[Source:- The Telegraph]